In this story from July 1998, actress Ruth Warrick, best known for portraying Phoebe Tyler Wallingford on All My Children, shares a lesson on keeping peace in the family.
- Posted on Jun 28, 2017
Every year Mother arranged family reunions. With the entire clan gathered at our house, she lit the candles and said a ritual Hebrew prayer over the freshly baked challah. Then she launched into a short, fervent sermon of sorts that over the years all of us came to know by heart.
“I am overcome with emotion,” she said. “It is wonderful to have you here. I want you to remember that you must be good to each other. You must take care of one another in times of need. Wherever I am, I’ll have my eye on you.” I believed her. When we were little, Mother always seemed to know what we were up to, even if there were walls between us.
Mother died when she was 84. After the funeral, the four of us children made a pact to continue the tradition of an annual reunion. Later we went to her house, and we each chose a keepsake. I took a tiny porcelain clock. Although it hadn’t worked in years, Mother always kept it by her bedside. At home, I put it on my nightstand.
For our first reunion after Mother’s death, my eldest sister arranged for everyone to go on a Caribbean cruise. The next year my husband and I found a small resort in southern Portugal, beautiful yet inexpensive—ideal, I thought, for our get-together.
I hoped the rest of the family would agree. Although we’re close, we have our conflicts. I was especially worried about my brother’s wife, Gina. She’s on the sensitive side, and we always seemed to rub each other the wrong way.
But I got too caught up in making arrangements to be attuned to Gina’s feelings. After a misunderstanding about the plane schedule, we found ourselves at odds. Soon we were no longer even speaking.
Then, to my surprise, Gina called just before our departure. She and my brother would be arriving in New York a day early to attend a meeting. “Can you join us in the city for dinner tomorrow?” she asked.
I thought about all the last-minute errands I had to do and I said, “I don’t have time. I’ll just see you at the airport the day after.” Gina hung up. As usual, she had taken my refusal personally. Doesn’t she understand how busy I am?
That night I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about Gina. Her being upset would upset my brother, which would send the whole family into an uproar. What can I do? I prayed. I don’t want our disagreement to ruin the reunion for everyone.
A clear, sharp ticking interrupted my thoughts. It sounded like a clock. But mine was digital. I sat up in bed and listened closely. It was unmistakable: The sound was coming from the tiny porcelain timepiece at my bedside. Mother’s clock. Incredibly, it was working again!
I lay back down, feeling oddly comforted. Somehow the slow, steady ticking brought to mind the deliberate cadence of Mother’s speech: “You must be good to each other…You must take care of one another.”
Of course. Before I drifted off, I vowed to do everything in my power to mend my differences with Gina.
I called her first thing the next morning. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to dinner,” I said. “I really am looking forward to seeing you.”
“I am too,” she admitted. It was a start.
After we got off the phone, I picked up the porcelain clock and held it to my ear. Not a sound. I decided to have a jeweler examine it when I got back from Portugal.
The reunion turned out to be happy for everyone. Gina and I made up, and on the flight back we sat next to each other and talked all the way home.
Several weeks later, I took the clock to a jeweler. “It hadn’t worked in years,” I explained. “Then it started ticking mysteriously—but just for one night.”
He inspected it carefully, then told me, “Ma’am, you must have heard something else. These parts haven’t moved in years. You’d have to replace the entire works to get it going again.”
“Thank you,” I replied, putting the clock in my handbag. “I’d rather keep it as it is.” A reminder that it takes work to keep a family together.
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